On Thursday, the European Investment Bank (EIB) will be hosting a high-level event on 'European and Global Leadership in Paris Alignment: Commitment to Action!' at the Finance in Common Summit, the first global summit of public development banks. Shockingly, one of the speakers that the EIB invited is a representative from KenGen, a controversial Kenyan public company involved in human rights violations.

KenGen is the promoter of geothermal projects financed by the EIB which have seriously violated the rights of indigenous peoples. One of these projects is the Olkaria power plant which has resulted in serious consequences for Maasai communities, many of which are still being felt today. The project and its detrimental consequences are highlighted in the case study below, adapted from a new report by Counter Balance and CEE Bankwatch Network “Can the EIB become the ‘EU Development Bank?”.

The Olkaria geothermal plants: jeopardising the existence of Maasai communities

One hundred kilometers north-west of Nairobi, the Olkaria area in Hell’s Gate National Park is home to wildlife, pastoralist Maasai communities and geothermal water.

In 2010, the EIB, together with the World Bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and the French Development Agency invested in the extension of the geothermal power plants Olkaria I and IV. This resulted in the resettlement of four indigenous Maasai villages to a remote place called RAPland (the acronym of RAP refers to Resettlement Action Plan), the name of which could serve as a symbol of the Maasai loss of culture and way of living.

Despite the EIB’s long experience in the region, it failed to recognise the indigenous peoples’ status of the Maasai. Following numerous complaints from the impacted people, in 2014 the EIB CM confirmed the loan’s non-compliance with the lenders’ environmental and social standards. The non-recognition of Maasai as indigenous people as well as several other breaches resulted in serious negative impacts on the resettled communities, which have not been fully addressed.

Olkaria 4 Geothermal

The implementation of the lenders’ action plan, which was finalised in 2016 during a mediation agreement between the impacted community and the project promoter (the Kenyan public electricity company KenGen), has been delayed, largely due to failures on the side of the company. This delay caused serious problems that undermine the culture and livelihood of resettled communities.

In 2014, the four Maasai villages were resettled from a 4,200 acre area to an area of 1,700 acres of land on loose volcanic soil. This area, which turned out to be largely unsuitable for grazing and extremely prone to soil erosion, has made people’s lives more dangerous and costly. The slopes and gullies make raising livestock in RAPland nearly impossible: cows have fallen to their deaths. The communities’ herds had to be reduced, affecting their economic livelihood and cultural practices.

Flash-floods during the rainy season leave infrastructure like roads and water pipes damaged for months. Unstable and precipitous gullies threaten the new houses. In September 2019, six houses were completely cut off due to a bridge collapse. A few months later, several animals lost their lives by falling into a deep cleft.

The children’s plight is no less problematic. Walking from the edge of the settlement to the school takes well over an hour for the smaller children, each way. When a flash-flood hits, many roads are cut off and children cannot go to school at all.

Olkaria Road

Road damage due to flash-floods (Photo: CEE Bankwatch, 2019)

Even now, the future of the Maasai remains uncertain. Despite promises, a formal land title has not been transferred to the community. Instead, their residence is only secured by a leasehold with an annual fee. To make things worse, the village is now flanked by two large plots which are part of the Akiira One geothermal project, a new exploration of the potential for geothermal power that is set to once again disrupt the livelihoods of this recently resettled community.

Despite some actions undertaken by KenGen following the mediation agreement reached in May 2016, the community’s living conditions still remain difficult and their livelihoods unsustainable and full of uncertainties.

A report from June 2020 by the Community Advisory Council (CAC) of Elders shows that many key issues still remain unresolved. As a result of relocation, the community of pastoralist Maasai lost access to at least 2500 acres of pastures. The land received is also less fertile and the requests for more pastures have been ignored. In addition, the soil of the resettlement site remains subject to constant erosion, continuing to cause damages to roads and endangering the stability of houses.

EIB still refusing to admit any wrongdoing

Unfortunately, this is only one of many other examples of EIB financed development projects that have resulted in human rights violations, as our new report illustrates. The EIB’s choice of Kengen as a speaker to its event on green and inclusive climate action only further exemplifies the findings from the report: showing clearly the Bank’s continuous dismissal of human rights and the actual impact of its projects on the ground.

Two weeks ago, after the program of the Finance in Common Summit was made public, CEE Bankwatch Network and Counter Balance sent a letter to the Secretary General of the EIB to urge the Bank to remove KenGen from the list of speakers at its event.

The EIB responded last Friday, refusing to admit any wrongdoing. In its reply, the EIB argued that KenGen had properly handled the social impacts from the project and was therefore well placed to speak at the summit. This claim is however in stark contrast to testimonies from the Maasai communities and the report published by the CAC.

If the EIB wants to really be a leader in the fight against climate change and the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it needs to start putting human rights at the center of its operations.

Clara Bourgin

Clara Bourgin